How (and Why) to Snack

The key to snacking isn't just how much you eat, but also what kind of foods you choose. See pictures of classic snacks.
The key to snacking isn't just how much you eat, but also what kind of foods you choose. See pictures of classic snacks.
© Gumerov

For many people, snack time is a highly anticipated part of the day. The key is choosing the right foods in the right proportions. Here are some guidelines for getting the most out of snack time.

Why you should snack


Food is the fuel that keeps your body running as an efficient machine. When you eat too much, your machine feels bloated and sluggish. But when you eat too little, your body goes into survival mode and starts socking away fats for the future. This can cause headaches or mood swings, and just generally makes you feel low energy. So, it's reasonable to conclude that balance is required for optimum efficiency, and this is where snacking comes in. Snacking benefits your metabolic function because it keeps your body from going into starvation mode between meals. It also helps you make better decisions at meal time, because the longer you go without eating, the more likely you are to overeat. It's also important to remember that mindless munching is different than a planned snack. Grabbing a handful of chocolate because you're stressed or bored probably won't be as beneficial as planning to eat a cup of grapes or a crisp, green apple at the midway point between two meals.

When you should snack

Snacking is an important part of a meal plan, as long as it's executed correctly. Many diets encourage eating small meals every few hours instead of sitting down for three squares throughout the day. That might not suit everyone, but eating a small healthy snack between meals could give you a little burst of energy and keep you from going into your next meal ready to eat everything in front of you. The main thing is to listen to your body and be aware of your eating habits. In general, you shouldn't force yourself to eat if you're not hungry. But if you find yourself sitting down to dinner and licking your heaping plate clean, you might consider having a healthy midday snack and serving smaller portions on your dinner plate. It can also be beneficial to your workout to have a small energy-inducing snack before you exercise. But try not to snack before you go to sleep, since there likely won't be any activity in the next six to eight hours to burn off those calories. On a related note, remember that adding snacks also adds calories. So to maintain your optimum weight, you will either need to add more exercise, or consume fewer calories at meals.

What you should snack on

So now you know why and when to snack, but how do you know what you should eat? The first key to snacking is food choices. Foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar pack on calories and slow your body down. So if you're looking for a little brain food, then steer clear of cookies and chocolate, and head toward fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The next rule is all about proportions. If you know you need to consume 1400 calories a day to maintain your ideal weight, then you have to plan out how many calories are allotted to each meal and make room for your snack. Then, choose healthy snacks within this range. For example, a 25-calorie allotment will get you a cup of air-popped popcorn, a small glass of tomato juice or a small handful of pretzels. If 50 calories is your magic number, you can enjoy a handful of grapes or a small serving of raw vegetables or a small piece of fruit. It can be helpful to have snacks pre-measured for when that first hunger pang announces itself, so you don't go running for the vending machine.

Find lots more information about snacking properly on the next page.



Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cohn, Lisa. "Can you really change your metabolism?", October 20, 2006.
  • Gage, Eleni N. "How to Snack Smarter.", 2009.
  • Gidus, Tara. "Snack Chips.", Jan. 25, 2008..
  • Hobson, Katherine. "Can Snacks Be Part of a Healthful Diet?", June 18, 2009.
  • Leong, Kristie. "Healthy Snacks Can Help You Lose Weight.", Jan. 4, 2007.
  • Mayo Clinic. "Snacks: How they fit into your weight-loss plan." May 30, 2008.
  • Northern Plains Potato Growers Association. "Potato Fun Facts."
  • Smith, Andrew F. "Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food." Greenwood Press, 2006.